Ryan Hunter-Reay’s victory in the 98th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was his 10th under the Andretti Autosport banner and the 50th for the team under INDYCAR sanction.
After a circuitous route, the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., resident found a motorsports rest stop in January 2010 that has evolved into a home. Hunter-Reay signed to drive the No. 37 IZOD-sponsored car. A victory in the fourth race of the season at Long Beach extended the short-season program and, in part, led to an contract extension through 2012. He signed another two-year extension on the eve of securing the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series championship.
That Long Beach win was the first for Michael Andretti, who recorded 42 CART victories and the 1991 CART championship, as sole owner of the team.
“It's so long ago now,” Andretti said. “When we looked at Ryan, one of the reasons we wanted to have him in our family was the series. You have to be a diverse driver, be able to race on all different types of racetracks, including here at Indianapolis. Ryan was good on all those tracks. That was one of the reasons why we went after him.
“We knew he would fit in here. He's been everything we had ever hoped for. It's just been a great relationship. We're so happy to have him as part of our family. Hopefully, he'll be part of our family till he retires.”
“That would be excellent,” said Hunter-Reay, 32, who would have signed another extension in Victory Circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway if presented a contract. “I remember going back to 2010, having a shot at Andretti Autosport. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. I was bouncing from team to team to team. I had to make it happen in a short amount of time, pressure-packed circumstances.
“You can’t do it alone. You have to have a team behind you, and you also need people that believe in you when the days don't go right. That's this guy over here. I have (Andretti) to thank for making my Indy car career a possibility this way.”
Michael Andretti was 6 years old when his father, Mario, won the family’s lone Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. On the 45th anniversary of that victory, he stood in Victory Circle for the third time as a team owner.
Hunter-Reay is the first American to win the “500” since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006, and the first from Florida. Seventy-three of the victories are spread among 49 drivers from 21 states.
“I'm just so proud of this race, for more than one reason,” he said. “I grew up as a fan of this sport first and foremost. My dad took me as a kid to some Indy car races. I was just fascinated, especially with this race. This is the biggest one, this is the granddaddy of them all. This is where drivers were made and history is made.
“When I was a kid, I looked up to the Andrettis, I looked up to Foyt, Unser, Mears, it was always trying to get there. That was the top right there. Just to have a shot at it like this is unbelievable. Being an American boy, I think when you look at maybe the NASCAR side of it, it's all Americans. This is an international sport, open-wheel. We do battle on every different type of discipline, short ovals, street courses, the only series in the world like that. The Verizon IndyCar Series is a true drivers championship. That's what I love most about it.”
Added Andretti: Going up against the best in the world, not just the United States, is a big deal. That's why to me it does feel more precious when an American wins it, because he won in an international field. That's when you feel really proud.”